I'm into the third week of the TCA Press Tour/Sundance double-bill and things have begun to get just a bit punchy and, with punchiness, I start falling back on intellectually facile puns.
So when I tell you that Stephanie Soechtig's Sundance US Documentary Competition entry "Fed Up" offers ample food for thought, you're going to have to take that with a grain of salt.
Oy. See what I did there?
Yeah. I have no pride.
Just because it's punny doesn't mean it isn't true. One of the pleasures of Sundance is riding shuttles with passionate audiences discussing the movies they've just seen and I don't remember the last time I took a shuttle in which every single rider was so deep and loudly in conversation about the film that they just saw as after catching a matinee of "Fed Up."
It's telling that I don't think I heard a single person discussing "Fed Up" in terms of its cinematic quality or lack thereof. Nobody wanted to talk about whether or not "Fed Up" was a "good" movie, but everybody wanted to engage with the documentary's central polemic.
Even at a film festival, not everybody is equipped with the vocabulary or the desire to talk about the merits of direction or editing or cinematography, but no matter who you are or where you go, absolutely everybody has the vocabulary and the desire to talk about food and eating. And just as devoted moviegoers are stubborn in their subjective approval or disapproval of certain films, "eating" is something that most people think they know how to do correctly, so when a documentary like "Fed Up" comes along and assails the fundamentals of this very basic human process, everybody has an opinion and everybody wants to share the things that they're sure they're doing right and the things they're apparently doing wrong.
So that's something I have to keep in mind when I'm reviewing "Fed Up."
I don't think it's a very good movie, but I think it's a hugely effective documentary, at least in certain contexts. It happens that the Sundance Film Festival is exactly the context in which "Fed Up" would be most superficially effective. The question is how the filmmakers, including executive producer and narrator Katie Couric, will be able to get "Fed Up" out into our national bloodstream so that its ideas will be able to circulate. Without wide distribution, concentrated most heavily among young viewers, it has no value at all. With wide distribution, particularly in schools, I've seen first-hand how well it instigates conversation. Ultimately, I think that Soechtig will be happier with that compliment than she'll be unhappy about any minor disappointment I feel in "Fed Up" as an aesthetic endeavor. "Fed Up" is designed to make people rethinking their eating habits, not to win Oscars.
More on "Fed Up" after the break...